This paper explicates the Jewish law and the views it holds on rape, deformities, contraceptives, and incest in regards to abortion. The research also goes further to discuss the Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews regarding their nature and position. Accordingly, the paper presents the view that the Jewish law, in general, forbids abortion because people should respect and protect the sanctity of human life. Concerning the Jewish law, the fetus one treats as human, and the Sabbath declaration always saves the lives of the fetus. Ashkenazi Jews differ with the rest of the Jews on the entire issue of rape while Sephardic Jews uphold similar views to Orthodox Jews on the abortion debate. Thus, there is no full agreement among Jews on the matters relating to rape, deformities, contraceptives, and incest in regards to rape.
In Judaism, the opinions on abortion reveal from the legal teachings as well as the ethical teachings of the Hebrew Bible, the Responsa as far its decisions of the case to case and the Talmud in addition to the various rabbinic literature. Judaism has an overall concern for human life sanctity. Besides the overall regard for the human life sanctity, there are other reasons why Judaism forbids abortion. First, Judaism prohibits abortion because engaging in it brings an end to the life of a fetus, therefore, breaking the command of God of populating the world. According to their point of view, abortion is also an unjustifiable act which wounds the fetus in addition to bringing injuries to oneself. This paper proves that the Jewish law is extremely strict on all forms of abortion in the sense that it does not necessarily consider whether a woman was a victim of rape hence putting many women in an awkward position especially when they are not comfortable with the pregnancy.
To have a clear understanding of the circumstances when abortion is allowed by the Jews, it is crucial to understand the Jewish law (halacha) that govern the fetus’ status. The fetus considers being an average person because it is a full-fledged human in the imagination. Therefore, the Jewish law prohibits the deliberate harming of a fetus. For instance, a person is accountable by Judaism if he/she deliberately causes a pregnant woman to miscarry. Besides, sanctions can be imposed on an individual who intentionally strikes a woman who is pregnant therefore causing a miscarriage that is unintentional. The Jewish law provides a general rule that abortion has a place if the pregnancy will bring harm to a woman if she continues to carry it or if the pregnancy will harm the woman during the process of childbirth. In the circumstances mentioned above, the infant is tantamount to a pursuer (rodef). The baby has a name rodef as it pursues the life of the mother with the intention of killing her. Nevertheless, Mishna holds that mother can save her life with the help of the fetus being maimed such as the amputated limbs, therefore, forbidding abortion.
Despite the fact that the fetus is a “pursuer” of its mother’s life, once the woman has delivered a baby, the existence of it equated the life of the mother. Therefore, it was better not to pursue the life of its mother. It is important to note that the main reason why the fetus’ life is subordinate to that of the mother is that the fetus is the main cause of the life-threatening conditions of the mother. The life-threatening conditions can either be directly such as placenta previa or indirectly such as hypertension. Jewish law also provides a restriction to the abortion of a fetus to save the life of any other individual whose life is not under danger of the fetus. Judaism also accepts both psychiatric and physical factors in the evaluation of the potential threat posed by the fetus to the mother. However, the dangers must be probable as well as substantial to justify abortion. Rabbinic scholars have seriously discussed the mental illness degree that should be present for an abortion to be justified. However, they suggest that if a pregnancy is suicidal to a woman, it should undergo abortion but with serious consideration of correcting the mental illness before the performing of the abortion procedure.
The Jewish law does not give relative values to many lives. Hence, almost all postkim (rabbis who are qualified to decide on matters of the laws of the Jews) abolish abortion because of fetus’ abnormalities and deformities. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the highly recognized postkim, holds that amniocentesis is under abolishment if the evaluation of the birth defects in the circumstance that the parents may want to perform an abortion. Most poskim also abolish abortion for fetuses that are defective. In the case of rape or incest, the mother can to choose either to continue the pregnancy or terminate it.
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The high status accorded to the fetus provides the demonstration of the Jewish law which allows the Sabbath desecration with a view of saving the life of a fetus. As far as halacha is concerned, the fetus is a part of the body of the mother. Therefore, if an individual causes a woman to miscarry, that person has committed a civil wrong because the fetus is not a full human being. On the other hand, if the mother is killed, it is a murder as the mother is a person.
Orthodox Judaism contains varying views about abortion though they abolish abortion except under limited circumstances. The Orthodox Jews unanimously agree that abortion is not just acceptable but mandatory in the event of saving the life of a woman. Among the Orthodox Jews, abortion is one of the controversial issues because of the debate over the research on stem cell. The medical ethics of the Orthodox Jewish seem to work for medical research, therefore, demonstrating the leniency of the Jewish law towards aborting a fetus. Therefore, according to the Orthodox Jews, abortion is not under prohibition before the elapse of forty days on the impregnated event. According to their point of view, there is no recognized fetus before the forty days elapse therefore no limb one can injure if there is the performance of abortion.
Reform Judaism allows abortion when the life of a woman is in danger, and also, the pregnancy came as a result of rape or incest. Moreover, Reform Judaism accepts abortion in the case of the genetic thorough testing, which discovered that the future child will be dead, or the child will have a severe disability. Reform Jews also allow an abortion if the parents of the future child understand that they may not be comfortable with the condition of it such as disability besides their various specific given reasons. The reformed Jews also argue that abortion one should not use as a method of contraceptive. Rather, abortion should be a personal decision of a woman to either do away with the pregnancy or not with aid from her spouse, physician, and therapist. On numerous occasions, the reform movement has presented the actions towards the objection of legislations that restrict the women’s right to opt for abortion if the pregnancy endangers the life of a woman. Reform Judaism places value on the autonomy of an individual. That is, the person’s right to be a moral agent on their own.
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Liberal Judaism holds that engaging in an abortion is acceptable if the continuation of pregnancy may bring both physical and psychological harm that is severe to a woman. In addition, liberal Judaism allows abortion when a competent medical practitioner discovers the fetus that the fetus is severely defective. The fetus is a life that one consider being developing. Therefore, the decision to engage in abortion should never, in any case, be light. Thus, the liberal Jews only allow abortion if the pregnancy will harm the woman both physically and psychologically. Before making a final decision to engage in abortion, liberal Jews advice that the woman should seek help from her biological father, other family members, her physician, her spouse and any other individual who can provide assistance in the assessment of the possible legal as well as involved moral issues.
Conclusively, both the Orthodox Jews, the Reform Jews, and the Liberal Jews have public views concerning rape, incest, and deformities to be abortion. In all of the mentioned Jewish branches, abortion can only be if rape and incest cause the pregnancy. However, the woman has the right of either choosing to keep the pregnancy or terminate it. Regarding deformities, the Jewish abolishes the abortion of fetuses with deformities as their lives equate to that of a normal human being. Nevertheless, there are certain conditions under which the parents of the fetus may choose to have an abortion. The first condition is when the parents will psychologically torture themselves by the condition of the child to be. Such parents may not be able to stand the situation or rather they may not be able to bear with the status of the child to be. Therefore, they may opt for an abortion. The second condition is when a doctor performs an abortion for the sake of the baby. For instance, if the condition of disability will have an adverse Implication on the life of the child to be, abortion is allowed. Moreover, if the future child will encounter suffering because of deformities, there is an option to choose abortion or not. Therefore, in this case, abortion is here for the sake of the fetus.
The Jewish view on contraceptives regarding abortion varies from one branch of Judaism to another. As far as the Orthodox Judaism is concerned, there should be limited use of contraceptives. Liberal Judaism allows their members to the traditional Jewish birth control views as well as encouraging their members to put into consideration the greater exceptions in using contraceptives to adjust to the modern society. On the other hand, Reform Judaism gives their followers freedom regarding the use of contraceptives. Reform Judaism encourages their members to employ their decisions in using contraceptives and therefore decide an individual level on the type of contraceptive.
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Regulations regarding the use of contraceptives affect the ancient streams of Judaism. Numerous modern Jews hold the view that the benefits that the use of contraceptives use brings such as the stability of the family, boosting the health of women and the prevention of diseases uphold the Judaism commandment to choose life rather than violating the commandment “be fruitful and multiply.” Nevertheless, in line with the position of Orthodox Judaism, there is a massive strict rule “be fruitful and multiply” that imposes to use contraceptives in the pregnancy prevention (Genesis 1:28, NIV).
The protective option is brought forth by Talmud where there is a particular explanation for those women who are nurses, who are young to bear a child, or currently waiting for a baby. In the cases name above, both the woman and her child face the risk of having serious complications. Thus, this lays the basis for numerous rabbinic authorities to allow contraception in conditions under which the pregnancy would adversely harm a woman. In these mentioned cases, the preferred methods of contraceptive are natural such condom use and pessary as they provide a barrier that is physical in nature. Orthodox rabbis have a belief that positive commandment that encourages human beings to be fruitful and multiply is an obligation of the male gender. In essence, wives have the option of engaging in birth control exercises by abstaining. On the other hand, husbands are forbidden sleeping with their wives during their menses. Contraceptive methods that cause sterility among males such as vasectomy cause problems as such kind of men can divorce with his wife basing on the biblical teaching in the book of Deuteronomy 23:1.
Orthodox Jews should consult a rabbi if they opt to use contraceptives. The rabbi will then perform an evaluation of the intervention need the best-preferred method as far as the Jewish law is concerned. Most Orthodox authorities do not permit contraceptive use providing arguments that most couples always opt to delay procreation. The usage of contraceptives varies from one community to another.
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As far the Jewish laws are concerned, contraceptive use is a form of abortion as some methods of contraceptives such as pills terminate already created pregnancies. Moreover, the use of contraceptives also prevents a woman from getting pregnant therefore going against the biblical teaching of procreation. In addition, some methods of contraceptive such as vasectomy one can consider being abortion as the “seed for fertilization” tampers with therefore causing the man not to be able to procreate. Therefore, the use of contraceptives is only allowed under certain conditions such as the period when women are breastfeeding their newborn children. Apart from this, only natural birth control methods are allowed as the hormonal ones hinder procreation. The Jews had encouragement to give birth to numerous children after the Holocaust after the death of the six million Jews. However, there is an innovated birth control method in Judaism whereby it involves a combination of an oral contraceptive pill commonly used by the young brides. The family purity laws abolish sexual intercourse during the menstruation period of a woman. Therefore, with a view of eliminating the chances of menstruation during their wedding nights, these young brides work on the regulation of their menstruation period some months before the occurrence of their marriage. It, therefore, eliminates the chances of having menstrual periods during their wedding night.
Ashkenazi Jews are the Jews that originated from Germany, France and Eastern Europe. They do not completely agree with the Jewish laws as they have assimilated into the non-Jewish culture that is local. However, their views on incest, rape, contraceptives and deformities regarding abortion one can compare to the views of other Jews. They accord much value to life and therefore abolish abortion unless some particular circumstances force a woman to terminate the pregnancy. They believe that an individual who has committed incest should marry the partner he/she has committed incest with, and they should never separate from each other. In addition, they have a view that an individual who causes a woman to miscarry should monetarily refund that lady. As far as they are concerned, abortion is necessary if the pregnancy brings forth some danger to a woman. Their view on rape is that a woman should have an opportunity to either keep the pregnancy or terminate it. Regarding the use of contraceptives, they have assimilated into the modern world whereby they encourage the use of contraceptives arguing that it is right for women to space their children. They also claim that the use of contraceptive prevents unwanted pregnancies, therefore, allowing a woman to have an exact number of children she wants in addition to being able to stay healthy.
Sephardic Jews are the Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, Portugal and Spain. Their thoughts and culture obtained the influence of the Greek philosophy as well as the Arabic philosophy and science. Regarding the Jewish views on rape, incest, and deformities, the Sephardic Jews have the same views as the Orthodox Jews. They believe that a doctor should perform an abortion under specified conditions. They further believe that medical research has to be on the abortion issue because just as the Orthodox Jews consider medical ethics in abortion, the Sephardic Jews also believe in the medical ethics before engaging in it. They also believe that one cannot term a fetus as a full human being before forty days of pregnancy. Therefore, during this period, abortion is allowed as the fetus is considered to be under no harm. They also have the view that abortion has a place if the pregnancy poses some dangers to the mother. Therefore to them, abortion is mandatory in the event of saving the life of a mother. They tend to be lenient as far as the Jewish laws are concerned, as they tend to interpret them differently. It also has lenient views on the abortion issue.
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They also hold a view that one should use contraceptives under limited circumstances. They believe in teachings of the Torah that sexual relationship is for procreation, and therefore, there is no need for contraceptives. Moreover, they believe that the use of condoms as a method of contraceptive destroys the intended purpose of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman, which is a pleasure. They reason in line with the Catholic faith that people should avoid contraceptives as they go against the biblical teachings of procreation. In addition, they view that only lactating mothers may use contraceptives. The usage of contraceptives is like the abortion by the Sephardic Jews as they not only eliminate the chances of one getting pregnant, but they also destroy the “seed” used to form life.
In conclusion, there are various branches of Judaism namely Orthodox Judaism, Liberal Judaism and Reform Judaism. In addition, there are Jewish laws that accord a particular status to the fetus, therefore, offering guidance to the issue of abortion. The Jewish laws commonly referred to as Halacha, give conditions under which one should perform an abortion. The various branches of Judaism have different views on rape, incest, contraceptives and deformities regarding abortion. However, there is a general point of view amongst them that abortion has a place to be only if the pregnancy poses a danger to a woman. There is also broad agreement that pregnancies caused by incest or rape should undergo termination and only be if the woman decides to continue keeping the pregnancy. The branches of Judaism also unanimously agree that, in the case of discovering a fetus, a pregnant woman can choose to request for an abortion by a medical practitioner upon a medical examination that the fetus has huge deformities, and the deformities might cause psychological torture to the parents of the future child. The Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazi Jews is another group of the Jews who have other views on abortion.